The Canadian Society for Medical Laboratory Science (CSMLS) is applauding a convoy of health care groups for coming together and pushing for the implementation of a national strategy to control infections within hospitals and in the community.
Five organizations stormed Parliament Hill last week, pleading the case to MPs and senators for a Canada-wide strategy to deal with ailments ranging from the common cold and flu to deadly hospital-acquired infections, as well as the possibility of a pandemic.
“As a nation, Canada continues to be at serious risk,” explains Robin Power, certified medical laboratory technologist and President of CSMLS. “Without warning, Canada could be hit with a new infectious disease that could take an enormous toll on our health care system.”
A crucial component of the proposed strategy illustrates the significant role that laboratories play in disease response. Dr. Michel Laverdiere, president of the Association of Medical Microbiology and Infectious Disease Canada, one of the groups involved in the proposed strategy, highlighted that the groups are also recommending for more and better equipment for laboratories where disease detection work is done.
“They are the sentinel of infectious disease,” said Laverdiere. “These labs will be the first ones…if a highly resistant microbe ventures in our country, you will pick it up (detect it) there first.”
However, with the growing concern of a lab professional shortage, this can be difficult. “Over half of medical laboratory technologists (MLTs) will be eligible to retire by the year 2016,” commented Kurt Davis, Executive Director of CSMLS. “That is a scary number, as we face the prospect of empty laboratories without the trained professionals to aid in detecting these emerging diseases.”
A clear example of the looming lab shortage problem was brought to a number of individuals’ attention with the temporary closing of the Fishermen’s Memorial Hospital lab in Nova Scotia. Lunenburg Mayor Laurence Mawhinney made the announcement public, explicitly stating that the temporary closure was precipitated because of staff shortages in the lab at South Shore Regional Hospital.
Shortages in the field of medical laboratory science are very well documented in several reports on health human resources since 1999. It would appear, however, that the exodus of baby boomers from the workforce is occurring at a slower rate than anticipated.
“This is a serious concern for the medical laboratory profession,” adds Davis. “There’s a good chance that Governments could be tempted to delay taking action on human resource issues such as these.”
According to the results of the most recent CSMLS Graduate Employment Survey, the uptake of general MLTs entering the workforce into full-time employment does not reflect the predicted rate of retirement. Employment practices appear to be focused on part-time opportunities, and the risk of attrition of new graduates from the profession in the absence of real employment puts enormous pressure on the system, and is a challenge that cannot be ignored.
A tangible solution is urgently needed; otherwise Canada will be severely compromised in meeting the challenges of new and emerging health threats.